Now that the House Republicans, led astray by their tea-partying cadre, have skipped town for the year after refusing to OK a bipartisan Senate deal to extend payroll tax cuts and federal jobless benefits, how badly are they faring in the court of public opinion?
Here’s how badly: They were eviscerated today by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which denounced their obstructionism as “a fiasco,” and a political boon for Barack Obama. And that speaks volumes, because the Journal editorial page, now controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s minions, is widely viewed as ground zero for Obama-hating conservatives.Basically, the editorial reached the unremarkable conclusion (though, for a Journal editorial, it’s somewhat remarkable) that it’s very bad politics to raise taxes on 160 million workers and cut off jobless benefits to three million idled workers. And that the whole “fiasco” plays right into the hands of their mortal enemy in the White House. The opening salvo:”GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.”No kidding. And I bet the editorial writers took a peek at the latest polls, which show Obama topping all Republicans (with Mitt Romney, at best, in a tie), while posting steady upticks in job approval. Maybe it’s sheer coincidence, but Obama’s incremental progress since October – he’s now on the cusp of 50 percent – has paralleled his repeated attacks on Republican nay-saying. Clearly, the Journal fears (with good reason) that Obama may be winning the PR war.The cry of agony is almost palpable: “The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible…”Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics…(Democrats) are having too much fun blaming Republicans for ‘raising taxes on the middle class’ as of January 1. Don’t be surprised if they stretch this out to the State of the Union, when Mr. Obama will have a national audience to capture the tax issue…and the political rout will only get worse.”Last night, this fear was echoed elsewhere in the Murdoch empire. On Fox News, Steven Hayes of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine lamented that the political optics look like this: “House Republicans are blocking the president, who wants to pass a tax cut.” He was seconded by Fox mainstay Charles Krauthammer, who said: “The Republicans have been entirely outplayed. Obama set up a trap. It’s a game…and he has succeeded.” Krauthammer mournfully predicted that if the payroll tax cut expires on schedule Jan. 1, thanks to the House GOP’s refusal to extend it, Obama and the Democrats, every day, “will be hammering the Republicans in the House to pass it, and ultimately the Republicans will cave.”Naturally, these members of the Republican “circular firing squad” (as the Journal editorial terms it) believe that this is all just a PR fiasco, that the tea-partying House has merely failed to communicate the substantive wisdom of their position. They apparently believe that a payroll tax cut has no stimulative benefit to the economy – despite the plethora of economic forecasters who insist otherwise. To cite just one example, Barclays warned the other day that if the payroll tax cut expires on Jan. 1, the firm would probably downgrade its first-quarter GDP growth forecast from 2.5 percent to one percent. (And wait a sec, I thought tea-partying Republicans believed that all tax cuts were intrinsically good. The answer is still yes, with the caveat that if Obama supports a tax cut, it must be intrinsically bad.)But losing at PR is bad enough for a party that prides itself on driving the dominant message. Early this afternoon, Obama turned the screws ever so deliciously when he spoke by phone with Boehner and subsequently sent out this email:”The President reiterated the need and his commitment to work with Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year, and the fact that the short-term bipartisan compromise passed by almost the entire Senate is the only option to ensure that middle class families aren’t hit with a tax hike in 10 days…The President urged the Speaker to allow a vote on the one compromise that Democrats and Republicans passed together to give the American people the assurance they need during this holiday season that they won’t see a significant tax hike in just 10 days.”But Boehner is trapped – by his own tea partyers. The same people who, in a meeting this week, compared themselves to William Wallace, the Mel Gibson freedom fighter in Braveheart. Although I don’t recall that Mel ever took spending money out of his own people’s pockets.If the Journal editorial writers and the Fox talking heads are gnashing their teeth about the GOP’s predicament, they might want to face the fact that this is the political price one pays for extremism. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1